Films with dark or depressing subject matter are hard to get excited for. In all reality, who gets pumped up to see a movie portraying something absolutely grim? Nobody. However, while the prospect of watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt play a twentysomething given a 50% chance of surviving a rare strain of cancer may not sound like the most appealing subject, you must get out there and see ’50/50′.
Unlike other disease-based dramas such as ‘My Sister’s Keeper‘, ’50/50’ is not sensationalized. The filmmakers never use cancer as a manipulative tool to stir up emotions. In the opening scene, the character is diagnosed with cancer. Shortly thereafter, he begins chemotherapy and experiences the terrible side-effects, but then it’s over. Where ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ used the hair loss, vomiting and lack of energy to make you feel bad for the characters, ’50/50′ gives it to you in a quick matter-of-fact manner, then moves on with the story. Know that this is not a story about cancer slowly destroying someone’s body; this is a story of a young guy emotionally and physically trying to deal with cancer.
When Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed, he is utterly confused. He’s lived his life by the book. He’s played it safe. Not only is he a great person, but he’s mentally and physically healthy. Why him?
Upon receiving the diagnosis, everyone reacts but Adam. His best friend (played by a surprisingly non-annoying Seth Rogen) feels that the best way to help Adam cope is to instill him with a “seize the day” mentality. His girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) fully commits herself to taking care of him through the body-deteriorating treatments. And his mother (Anjelica Huston) cannot stop calling to check on him. But Adam is calm. Shock will do that to you. Survival mode keeps him thinking that nothing is going to change. To help him come to terms, his doctor recommends weekly visits with a grief counselor (Anna Kendrick).
What makes ’50/50′ so genuine and honest is that the screenplay was written by a guy who went through this exact same scenario. Sure, you feel horrible for the unfortunate circumstances of Adam’s life – but that’s not the purpose of the film. ’50/50′ shows you the emotional deterioration caused by cancer, as opposed to solely the physical deterioration depicted in nearly every other disease-based drama. All the while, the movie keeps the tone light. Cancer isn’t a joking matter, and while ’50/50′ honestly deals it out, the film is perfectly balanced with lightweight and even comical substance.
It takes a lot to emotionally move a film critic – especially to the point of tears – but on several different occasions throughout ’50/50′, the movie choked me up and watered my eyes. If my reaction alone isn’t enough to convince you of the beautiful emotional impact of it, know that along with my wife, every other Salt Lake City film critic at the screening had the same near-tear reaction.
Hats off to everyone involved in the filmmaking side of ’50/50′ – the courageous writer who poured his heart out onto the pages, the young director who perfectly brought it to life in an honest fashion, and to each actor for stretching his or her self further than we’ve seen before. Here’s to hoping you all get the awards you deserve.